BMMHS Evening Meeting: The Battle of the River Plate

The Battle of the River Plate

Speaker: Peter Hore

meeting December 2022

Wednesday 14th December 2022; 7:30pm

BMMHS Meeting Venue

Woodcote Village Hall, Reading Road, Woodcote, RG8 0QY

 In view of COVID the meetings may switch to a Zoom talk at short notice. Please check the bmmhs.org home page for the latest information.

The Battle of the River Plate

The Battle of the River Plate took place in December 1939.

Winston Churchill, then First Lord of the Admiralty, said:

“This brilliant sea fight takes its place in our naval annals and in a long, cold, dark winter it warmed the cockles of the British hearts”

River Plate Hore
ROYAL NAVY WARSHIPS OF THE INTER-WAR PERIOD (Q 65698) The cruiser HMS EXETER. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205212325
River Plate Hore
THE ROYAL NAVY DURING THE SECOND WORLD WAR (A 6) The German pocket battleship ADMIRAL GRAF SPEE in flames after being scuttled off Montevideo, Uruguay, after the Battle of the River Plate, 17 December 1939. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205184992
Victory in the Battle of the River Plate, the first major naval engagement of the Second World War, was a great boost to British morale during the ‘Phoney War’.
 
When war broke out in September 1939, the German pocket battleship Graf Spee, commanded by Hans Langsdorff, was patrolling in the Atlantic. She represented a grave threat to Allied shipping, sinking eight merchant ships between September and December.
 
Seven Allied ‘hunting groups’, totalling 23 major warships, were sent to look for her. After sinking three more ships, Langsdorff made for the busy shipping lanes off the River Plate in South America. Commodore Henry Harwood of Hunting Group G correctly guessed Langsdorff’s intentions, and on 13 December he closed in with the heavy cruiser HMS Exeter and light cruisers HMS Ajax and HMS Achilles.
 
Langsdorff concentrated his fire on the heavier Exeter, setting her alight, destroying most of her guns and forcing her to leave for the Falkland Islands. Shifting fire to Ajax, Langsdorff disabled two of her four turrets before breaking away for the port of Montevideo, in neutral Uruguay. Harwood kept watch outside while other Allied ships rushed to the area.
 
According to international law, a warship could only remain in a neutral port for 24 hours, and British diplomats tried to have Graf Spee interned or forced to leave. Langsdorff extended his stay by 72 hours but finally had to leave on 17 December.
 
Only the cruiser HMS Cumberland had arrived to reinforce Harwood, but Langsdorff, convinced that strong forces were waiting, sank Graf Spee himself rather than risk another battle. © IWM
River Plate Hore
THE ROYAL NAVY DURING THE SECOND WORLD WAR (A 2) The German battleship ADMIRAL GRAF SPEE in flames after being scuttled in the River Plate Estuary off Montevideo, Uruguay. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205184990
River Plate Hore
THE ROYAL NAVY DURING THE SECOND WORLD WAR (A 24416) The cruiser ACHILLES, veteran of the Battle of the River Plate, moored at Greenock shortly after her refit. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205119875
River Plate Hore
THE ROYAL NAVY DURING THE SECOND WORLD WAR (A 8) Rear Admiral Sir Henry Harwood is greeted by the British Minister to Uruguay, Mr E Millington-Drake after his arrival at Montevideo. Admiral Harwood arrived in the cruiser HMS AJAX after the battle of the River Plate and the scuttling of the ADMIRAL GRAF SPEE. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205131327
River Plate Hore
HMS EXETER'S ARRIVAL AT PLYMOUTH: 1940 (HU 104428) Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205226492

About the speaker - Peter Hore

Peter Hore served worldwide during a full career in the Royal Navy, spent nine years in the film and TV industry, and is now a fulltime writer, editor and journalist. A freelance obituarist at the London Daily Telegraph since 2002, he has written nearly 1,000 obituaries on the men and women of the Royal Navy and on the Royal Marines including the SBS, the FANY, the French Resistance, yachtsmen, shipping magnates and many others.  Peter is a busy public speaker and writes reviews and articles for several newspapers and journals. He is an elected fellow of the Royal Historical Society and the Society for Nautical Research, a chartered member of the Institute of Linguists, and a corresponding member of the Royal Swedish Society for Nautical Sciences.
 
River Plate Peter Hore
Peter Hore

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